One of the best reasons for reading or seeing an Oscar Wilde play is that you get to know the characters. They are witty and intelligent, funny but in a way everybody else longs to be rather than playing the fool, and they are delicious.
Amelia Mansfield and Bennett Montague, the main characters in “The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide” by Virginia Heath could fit in to the fast paced world of any Oscar Wilde play, where laugh out loud comedy sits so comfortably alongside deep feelings and universal truths. They stay in the mind long after the book has been put down.
The two characters bounce off each other beautifully, too. I don’t need to be told the tone of voice they use, how they stand or the expressions on their faces. I can see them with every thought, every action, every line of sparkling dialogue.
Watching them come together, discovering the error of their pre-suppositions and slowly unbending, becoming the people they can be instead of the ones they’ve got into the habit of being was sheer delight and made for a very satisfying read indeed.
Icing on the cake were the quotes from Bennett’s book, which started each chapter. Some of them made me chuckle. Others left me shaking my head in wonder at a young man who still had so much to learn.
But there were serious issues too. The story involving Amelia’s father showed just how much a woman was at the mercy of the men in her life, and how she could be treated as a pariah through no fault of her own. How I longed to see Viscount Venomous get his just desserts! How I cheered when Bennett served them to him. What greater, or more eloquent proclamation of his love could he have given?
The description of Parliament was brilliant, too. So accurate, and so much a picture of the place today, as well as 200 years ago.
With this book, Virginia Heath has become one of those authors whose books I will buy without waiting even to read the back cover blurb.
Yes, Virginia, it is that good.